"You Say You Want A Revolution ..."
The far right's increasing embrace of authoritarianism is even more disturbing than you might think.
I’m Michael A. Cohen, and this is Truth and Consequences: A no-holds-barred look at the absurdities, hypocrisies, and surreality of American politics. If someone sent you this email - or you are a free subscriber - and you’d like to become a paid subscriber: you can sign up here.
At the Bulwark, Charlies Sykes has a smart piece looking at the growing embrace of dictatorship on the far right.
He cites a recent article in American Greatness, an online publication that styles itself as the intellectual home of Trumpism, titled The Salazar Option, which celebrates the reign of Portugal’s fascist dictator António de Oliveira Salazar.
The crux of the argument made by Christopher Roach, an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness, is that the right can no longer acquiesce to liberal indoctrination. “The forces of the aggressive, secular Left are not going to let any of us retreat into our own enclaves,” says Roach. “They will hunt down every last private club, pizza shop, and bakery out of mere spite. They will steal your kids and destroy your life.”
“Passive resistance” is a fool’s errand, says Roach, as he argues that history teaches that “the only thing that worked” in resisting “revolutionary leftist power …was the acquisition of real power.” Hence the reverence for Salazar, whose regime Roach describes as “undoubtedly authoritarian” … but “far less intrusive and far less damaging to society than the alternative.”
According to Roach, the brutality that defined the 1926 coup in Portugal, led by Estado Novo that overthrew a left-wing government, is a feature, not a bug. “Estado Novo and its supporters did not treat its enemies with kid gloves,” says Roach. “They were not limited by self-defeating notions of ‘principle.’ Hostile and revolutionary elements—whether domestic Communists, fascist syndicalists, internal political factions, or international high finance—were treated as equal potential dangers.”
For months now, political observers have noted the conservative movement’s increasingly authoritarian bent, so I suppose it’s not surprising that a publication devoted to promoting Donald Trump would unabashedly embrace such a message. But after reading a number of posts at American Greatness, I was struck by something even more disturbing — the increasingly existential, even eliminationist rhetoric emanating from the far right. Liberalism is presented not as an ordinary political or cultural movement. Instead, it is a clear and present threat to America’s future and the American people. To read American Greatness is to believe that America is in the last throes of liberal indoctrination, and the time is now to confront it with force, if necessary.
“First They Came For Our Putters … and I Said Nothing”
American Greatness is rife with references to “cultural catastrophe” and the “ongoing leftist cultural indoctrination of America’s future.” The usual conservative bugaboos are trotted out, such as “the explosion of violent crimes in American cities,” “disease-bearing illegal aliens,” “and the takeover of the military and education by the intersectional Left.” A former congressman from Arkansas, Thaddeus McCotter, laments the impact of the left’s “climate cult” on children because, and I’m not making this up, there is now a New York-based miniature golf course focused on the theme of climate change. “‘Fun’ is subordinate to and subsumed beneath politics and power,” writes McCotter. “Only if one has been ‘informed’—i.e., indoctrinated and submissive—will the Left let you have fun.”
Once piece compares vaccine mandates to the Shirley Jackson short story, “The Lottery,” in which a child is chosen by lottery to be stoned to death as a human sacrifice. This idea of vaccine and mask mandates being an attempt at societal control and an example of the left's burgeoning tyranny is a recurrent theme on American Greatness.
John Conlin, who bills himself as an “expert on organizational design and change,” compares the calls from Democratic leaders for vaccine mandate to that of genocidal leaders:
Listen carefully to the Biden Administration, the Squad, and all the rest. They are tyrants in the making and if they had the power and ability, they would surely use it. From the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, to Stalin, to Mao, to Islamist supremacists, to Venezuela and Cuba and many others, the road to tyranny—and the end of individual freedom—started with “I’ll just make them . . .”
Conlin implores his readers to “Vote and live like your very freedoms—and the lives of all you love—hang in the balance. They do.” Comparing the president and his congressional supporters to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge might also lead one to conclude that voting is the least you should do to forestall this outcome.
Roger Kimball, the editor and publisher of The New Criterion, decries the “tyrannous spirit” that is driving “lockdowns, the mask mandates, and the smug, hectoring, politically correct demands for proof of vaccination.” He says, “the weaponization of public health diktats … is simply the latest manifestation of the profoundly anti-democratic spirit” and “at some point, there will be a revolt.”
According to Kimball,
“The longer the arbitrary insanity persists, the more violent the reaction will be. The question is whether we are at or are approaching the point of crisis. Will the voters stand for another lockdown as we approach the 2022 election? Lockdowns markedly increased the opportunities for voter fraud; 2020 showed that. That is precisely why the swamp is prepping us for another go. Let’s see if we stand by grumbling impotently or if, finally, we actually do something. I am not holding my breath.”
So we’re clear, Kimball is bemoaning the fact that there likely won’t be an armed revolt in response to public health measures around COVID-19.
The Evils of Wokeism
But it’s not just vaccinations that have the writers at American Greatness so upset. Bruce Abramson, who is “a director of the American Center for Education and Knowledge, and author of the forthcoming book, The New Civil War: Exposing Elites, Fighting Utopian Leftism, and Restoring America,” has penned an attack on what he calls the ideology of “Wokeism.” He calls it “a new world religion engaged in a stealth conquest of America, the West, and the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
Abramson’s criticism of wokeism is not your usual attack on socially conscious liberals. Instead, what roused him to write his jeremiad against Wokeism is a recent poll that shows a rejection of religious affiliation by a quarter of all Americans (he dubs these Americans “nones”)
“At a societal level, religion provides the basis for morality, law, and community,” says Abramson. “Without some external anchor for basic concepts of good and evil, all morality becomes situational—rendering the rule of law untenable. In short, if a quarter of America can find true fulfillment as nones, American society is dangerously unstable (italics added).”
If you detect a strong Handmaid’s Tale vibe in this language, you’re not alone.
“It’s Just a Flesh Wound”
Conrad Black, who is a prominent Canadian news publisher and author of a reasonably well-reviewed one-volume biography of Franklin Roosevelt, focuses on the “real doubt about the integrity of voting and the fairness of the vote-counting system in key parts of six swing states” and claims 2020 “wasn’t a demonstrably fair election.”
This is standard right-wing misinformation, but it is Black’s defense of the January 6 insurrectionists that stands out.
“In the circumstances, the country should be grateful (italics added) to Trump and his supporters that they didn’t really organize an assault on the Capitol by armed people, and didn’t respond to the election-rigging efforts with equivalently disruptive measures.
“… The last election was the closest the United States has come to tanks on the White House lawn. Any such recurrence could produce the real thing—if the generals aren’t too busy teaching “antiracism” to the ranks.”
Julie Kelly, who is a senior contributor to American Greatness, takes the baton on defending the insurrectionists and kicks it up a notch … by attacking the police officers who testified to Congress last month. The “U.S. Capitol Police,” says Kelly, “has taken a leading role in fabricating the mythology of January 6.” She focuses her venom on Officer Harry Dunn and Officer Aquilino Gonell, who she helpfully notes is “an immigrant from the Dominican Republic.”
According to Kelly, the officers should not be believed because there is no video verifying their claims of being peppered with racial invective or depicting them being injured. They are, she says, “participating in a political operation designed to help Democrats and destroy Republicans (italics added), including hundreds of Americans who participated in the events at the capital on January 6.”
It is this theme of overweening power by liberal elites that is the throughline on American Greatness. According to Pedro Gonzalez, an associate editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, “the ruling class and elites in the United States view millions of Americans as partisan insurgents, wide-eyed foot soldiers similar in the threat they pose to the established political order as combatants stalking the jungles of Mexico or the mountains of Afghanistan. That threat will require a new national security apparatus, one that is coming into being right now.” Keep in mind, in this analogy, Gonzalez is comparing Trump supporters to the Taliban. Far worse, he is arguing they need to prepare themselves for anti-democratic measures that will surely be coming from the Biden administration.
It would be easy to dismiss the writings at American Greatness or any publication that attempted to put an intellectual gloss on Trumpism. This kind of language has long found a home on the fringe right. But the site includes a roster of what Sykes calls “right-wing luminaries as Victor David Hanson, Seb Gorka, David Harsanyi, Conrad Black, Roger Kimball, Mark Bauerlein, Josh Hammer, Ned Ryun, Dennis Prager, and Salena Zito.” These are writers who have some level of intellectual currency and influence in the conservative movement.
What’s more, the harshly anti-liberal, quasi-eliminationist rhetoric on American Greatness is consistent with the language of Fox News personalities like Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson. (It bears noting that Carlson will be speaking at a far-right conference in Hungary this week — that nation’s authoritarian leader, Victor Orban, has become increasingly popular on the American right.) It’s also consistent with now routine statements from Trump, like one he put out today, warning that “the Biden Administration continue to get away with destroying our Country.”
The notion that liberals are bent on destroying America and taking away basic freedoms is now practically cant on the right. But so too is the idea that right-wing patriots have a responsibility to stop it by taking up arms or backing dictators if necessary. For authoritarianism or fascism to take root in any democratic society, it’s essential to portray one’s political enemies as not rivals but rather as direct and irredeemable threats. Only that can justify authoritarian measures that ordinarily would have no place in a democratic society. American Greatness suggests that’s precisely what is happening.
The other day I posted a few songs by famous Arkansas artists. Reader Joel Stein took issue with me leaving out two legendary Arkansas musicians - Big Bill Broonzy and Sister Roberta Tharpe. Thanks for steering me right, Joel!
This is incredible!